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Editorial: Track to the future

A new project to help revitalize Providence is in the works, and we have a chance to be a part of it. Next month, the Metro Transit Study Working Group will announce a proposal for a streetcar system to augment the existing public transportation routes in central Providence. The group's conclusions call for two streetcar lines intersecting in Kennedy Plaza — one connecting Providence Station and Rhode Island Hospital and the other running from College Hill to the southwest of downtown Providence. The system is aimed, in part, at connecting the city's colleges and universities with its hospitals. A great deal of planning and decision-making remains, but an extensive streetcar network costing between $66 million and $86 million could be in place within a decade.

The working group includes representatives from Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, local higher-education institutions and development organizations, and the city and state governments. If the pattern of careful consideration and diverse input the group has established continues, the streetcar network is likely to be an enormous boon to Providence and the surrounding area. It could propel the city's economic revival by impressing investors with a durable commitment to efficient transportation. It could allow the city to decrease congestion and pollution by offering an alternative to automobiles instead of piling more punitive restrictions on drivers. It could provide a chance to restructure the RIPTA routes that inefficiently crowd Kennedy Plaza, easing the burden onto smaller transport hubs at key locations such as Providence Station.

And it could do all this at a fraction of the cost of a comparably extensive light-rail system. This is a rosy picture, to be sure, but Providence would hardly be the first city to reap an enormous benefit from a well-executed streetcar system: In the years following the completion of its original $57 million streetcar network in 2001, Portland, Ore., received $3.5 billion of investment within two blocks of the new tracks.

Brown also stands to benefit enormously. Easier access to hospitals and the University's diffuse medical school facilities is an obvious godsend to the future doctors among us. But every Brown student could benefit from more efficient access to Providence's various attractions. And a streetcar track would intensify the benefits that Brown and Providence provide to each other. The city would receive more economic stimulation from Brown development projects, free-roaming students and graduates who choose to stay; meanwhile, the University would be able to draw in prospects with a more vibrant and accessible surrounding community.

Brown administrators have contributed to the working group, and we applaud them for it. They should continue their cooperation and seriously consider pitching in for the streetcars' operating budget, preferably in return for free ride for staff, students and faculty, as with the current RIPTA arrangement. But the University's involvement with the project should extend further than the upper echelons. Students observe the strengths and weaknesses of the city's current public transportation system at the ground level. Through UCS and other forums, we can provide important advice to help guide this process in its early stages, and administrators should take heed.

Odds are you will be living elsewhere by the time the streetcars make their first trips, but a soundly designed new transport system will deliver a sizeable and lasting benefit to the community that hosted you for four or more years, and it will help to magnify the value and prestige of your degree. Get on board.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board.



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